38 shots with double digit shot totals per period. Yann Danis stops 27. Nine power play chances. Only five penalty kill moments. Seven goals scored in the game. Surely the Oklahoma City Barons won game number three against the Charlotte Checkers, right? Wrong.
On Wednesday evening, as the Western Conference 4 vs. 5 Quarterfinal rolled on, things turned towards Charlotte, and it wasn’t just a geographical turn. The Oklahoma City Barons would be soundly defeated by the Charlotte Checkers, 6-1 in game three. The Checkers now take a commanding 2-1 lead in the series with the potential to wrap things up on Friday evening.
“Go do that voodoo that you do so well!” is the quote that most comes to mind, thanks to Blazing Saddles.
The Charlotte Checkers, coached very well by Jeff Daniels, had a plethora of weapons at their fingertips. Seventeen healthy forwards means that you have a bunch of options, and that’s not something this Charlotte team has been afforded for much of the season. So they began the game with a red hot pace.
The defense was abundantly powerful in this one, and maybe that stands as a testament to the strength of this Charlotte squad more than anything else. Rod Madore seems to have eased himself into the starting goaltender role, enough so that he’s found a groove that seems unbreakable at times. The defenders, only subjecting themselves to eight total penalty minutes in this game (18 overall for the Checkers, which is a rare high total), closed fast and hard and careful on the top two scoring lines of OKC. They are really tough to get around. Likewise, the forwards did a fantastic job pushing the puck hard, and it reflected on the scorecard.
The Checkers point snatchers on the evening were aplenty. Chris Terry with two goals, Matt Marquardt, Bobby Raymond, Justin Shugg, and Tim Wallace with one a piece. Six other players recorded at least an assist (some multiples; Boychuk with three helpers), and the story is short, sweet, and brutal for the Oklahoma City Barons, whom had a lone goal scorer named Toni Rajala.
The first period featured three straight goals from the Checkers, two of which were on the power play. Former Barons/Oiler Matt Marquardt, having a solid three game stretch, scored the first goal for Charlotte just over the two minute mark. Then regular season leading scorer, Chris Terry notched back to back power play goals less than two minutes a part. With the hole being three deep, Toni Rajala score the only power play goal of the game (8 other chances went unsuccessful) on a two-man advantage where he went, you guessed it, high over the goaltenders shoulder. This momentarily stopped the hemorrhaging , but the Barons would soon find that the hole was just too deep.
The second period was a tad more respectable, and that was thanks to a man named Yann Danis, and the Checkers slightly tapping the breaks. OKC, defensively speaking, moved the puck better, and shut down the scoring lines as much as they could. Right winger, Tim Wallace, punched in a goal mid-period to again put the Barons down three goals, and seemingly out of touch with any type of rally.
Stretching the lead to a whopping five by the time the final period ended, the Barons had officially been sunk and instantly pushed to the brink of being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Bobby Raymond and Justin Shugg nailed the coffin door shut, as the Charlotte Checkers would defeat the Oklahoma City Barons 6-1.
The short story for OKC is this – the team was out-maned. That’s about as cliche a sports statement as one can make, but let me unpack the long story. When you shoot the puck nearly forty times only scoring once, go one for nine on the power play, allow three of five goals while you’re on the kill, take overlapping penalties, and don’t push the puck towards the net prominently – you’re going to lose. It wasn’t about opportunity because clearly the Barons had multiple chances to win. It was about a team just being a better team, and right now that’s the Charlotte Checkers.
Game four will be hard for Charlotte to win simply because Oklahoma City can feel the cold breathe of golfing in Canada on the back of their necks, but Charlotte, I think, is ultimately a better team. Much like the Western Conference Finals a year ago, the Barons are just a bit less skilled in specific areas, and that’s not a knock on the squad. It’s just the harsh reality.
Yet I have hope. Yann Danis is capable of stealing games, and Jonathan Cheechoo can be a streaky sorta player. Those pieces just need to come together at the same time if the Barons want to win a series on the road.
Game four, again in Charlotte, will take place Friday evening at 6pm. Cheer hard and GO BARONS!